It is hard to overstate the changes that are coming to K-12 education in America. States are increasingly electing funding schemes in which the money follows students rather than systems–a new approach that goes by the moniker, “school choice.” The Supreme Court has invalidated programs that exclude religious schools from otherwise neutral state funding programs, even when monies might go to what are conventionally regarded as “religious” activities. Parents are increasingly dissatisfied with the educational and social experience their children receive in public schools, which only increased during the COVID period and was exacerbated by bitter culture-war conflict over the substance of what is being taught. Most recently, word comes from Oklahoma of the first religious charter school, a hybrid public-private entity whose constitutionality will surely be challenged and that would, in fact, be vulnerable under the no-aid regime of the past. But it may well survive and others like it grow.

Exciting and interesting times for lower school education (and, I should think, for its inevitable downstream effects on higher education). But many are deeply displeased with these developments, which, it is true, signal a real sea change for the American public school and the dismantling of yet one more American institution. Among the ranks of the unhappy is journalist Cara Fitzpatrick, who has a new book, The Death of the Public School: How Conservatives Won the War Over Education in America (Basic Books).

America has relied on public schools for 150 years, but the system is increasingly under attack. With declining enrollment and diminished trust in public education, policies that steer tax dollars into private schools have grown rapidly. To understand how we got here, The Death of Public School argues, we must look back at the turbulent history of school choice.     
Cara Fitzpatrick uncovers the long journey of school choice, a story full of fascinating people and strange political alliances. She shows how school choice evolved from a segregationist tool in the South in the 1950s, to a policy embraced by advocates for educational equity in the North, to a conservative strategy for securing government funds for private schools in the twenty-first century. As a result, education is poised to become a private commodity rather than a universal good.   

The Death of Public School presents the compelling history of the fiercest battle in the history of American education—one that already has changed the future of public schooling.  

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